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I recently stumbled upon the galley for Holly Black’s Red Glove, part of The Curse Workers series, and the much-anticipated sequel to White Cat. Since White Cat was on my To-Read List anyway, I thought now would be a great opportunity to read it considering I would only have the galley for a very limited time.
So, I’m going to lump White Cat and Red Glove together since I read them both in a ten-hour reading marathon, interrupted only by a four-hour nap (which some may call, “sleep”).
Cassel Sharpe was born into a family of curse workers. The only non-worker in his family, he makes up for his lack of magical touch through minor cons and gambling deals to help pay for those little things that will help him blend into the social circles of his college prep boarding school. But then one night, he finds himself teetering over the edge of a building rooftop, and soon, blending in becomes the least of his concerns.
Now he’s back at his family’s “Garbage House” mansion, and Cassel balances his time between his death worker grandfather (getting the house ready for his soon-to-be-released-from-prison emotion worker mom), and doing favors for his should-be-in-prison brothers. Taking turns sifting through piles of rubbish, and making sense of his memories of killing his best friend, Lila, Cassel discovers that he’s a major player in a long con. The only problem? He doesn’t remember his role in it.
Cassel needs to decide whether to be the con artist or the mark as plot twists unravel in this con-or-be-conned world.
(to be released, April 5, 2011)
The story for Red Glove begins right where White Cat left off: with Cassel struggling with the results of his mom’s emotion work. (Good thing I didn’t decide to read WC until I had this galley–I’m not the most patient person when it comes to cliffhanger-like endings. (Just ask my crit partner, Kayla. She’ll tell you.))
After spending a summer bonding (read: running minor cons) with his mom, Cassel returns to school, welcoming the relative stability provided there. The calm is short-lived when he discovers that his brother Philip was murdered.
Cassel, once an outsider longing to be part of his family’s Curse Worker heritage, now seems to be getting more attention than he bargained for. The FBI wants him to step into Philip’s role as an informant (while also helping them find Philip’s murderer). The mob wants to recruit, and control, Cassel’s unique talents. And, classmates pressure him to be more involved in social activism for Worker rights.
(Ironically, being a Worker should have given Cassel the girl of his dreams. He’d always felt unworthy to be with someone of her status. Unfortunately, he can’t trust her worked-over emotions, thanks to his mom’s handiwork.)
Cassel navigates the gray with more dexterity in this installment of the series. Though he can’t seem to stop working the angles of a good con, he is always loyal to his family and friends, and has their best interests at heart, whether they agree with him or not. Probably a good reason why the ban on curse work was never repealed if a good bad-guy like Cassel can bend rules to near-breaking.
Quite simply, I loved the world that Holly Black created. Through casual references and observations, HB weaved subtle textures of otherness in this Curse Worker universe.
The Curse Workers world is set in a re-imagined history where being a Worker is synonymous with being a criminal. A history where magic was banned shortly after prohibition started, but unlike liquor, the ban on magic was never repealed. And, just like Al Capone and mobsters like him filled the niche of bootlegging liquor, the most prominent curse worker families came from the labor camps created in that prohibition era.
With a deft hand, HB parallels the stigma of magic to the progression of liquor’s prohibition (and subsequent repeal). It’s interesting to me to see what moral and ethical temperaments are created simply by banning something. I feel like I’m back in my Intro to Ethics course in college, asking: If something is illegal, does it make it inherently immoral or evil? Do we create our own criminals?
As a corollary to the ethics of magic use, there’s the question of registering Curse Workers as one would register a gun or other weapon. This motif really resonated with me because I grew up addicted to X-Men comics, and the idea of registering mutants was a major story arc that affected several story lines. In the X-Men universe, mutant registration showed how a social program with well-meaning intentions can quickly become a full scale holocaust. Of course it’s not hard to derive social issues such as discrimination or prejudice from a story that has clear binaries of haves versus have nots; non-workers versus workers; and marks versus con artists.
Why are Curse Workers feared? They weren’t always. At one point in their history, they were called “Dab Hands,” a reputation akin to specialists and skilled traders. However, since the barest of touches is all a Worker needs to change a person’s luck, manipulate memories and emotions, and even kill, “dab hands” soon became the maligned “curse workers” or simply “workers.”
The Curse Work is not without consequences: the Worker will experience blowback in response to the curse that he or she wields. (A power limitation is always a good thing in my opinion. When I read books with characters who are too-powerful, the plot almost always turns into a deus ex machina situation. Boring.) But, the thought that a Worker will experience blowback still doesn’t diminish the wariness the general public feels against being worked. So, everyone in The Curse Worker universe wears gloves, and is as cautious around ungloved individuals as one would be around a person waving around a gun. Brings a whole new dimension to the phrase, “No glove, No love.”
“I’d rather go naked than be without my gloves.”
My favorite show-don’t-tell detail in this universe has to be the gloves and the cultural significance they have in this world. For example, if a person was used to seeing only gloved hands, then ungloved hands would seem very intimate and personal, like this little snippet in White Cat: “There are lots of pictures of naked girls lying on their backs, pulling off long velvet gloves. Girls touching bare breasts with shockingly bare hands.” It seems like Cassel is almost more intrigued by bare hands than anything else in these books. To me, this perception makes sense and is just one example of how HB infuses random observations to create a believable world. If you were afraid that someone can work you over with a simple touch, you would have a world where people were concerned about covering their hands. And, because of the importance of keeping their hands gloved, a whole new culture of taboos and “forbidden fruit” mindset would evolve from this practice.
Cons, curses, gloves… Red Glove delves deeper into the brilliantly imagined world begun in White Cat. To me, Red Glove was a better reading experience than WC, simply because I felt more immersed in the world, and the characters were more familiar and developed. I felt like I knew Cassel better and appreciated him more than I did in White Cat, especially since he didn’t have to “remember” who he is or work through false and hidden memories in this sequel.
Red Glove was definitely an addictive read, one that I could NOT put down because I HAD to see how it ended. Plus, I couldn’t help but think of The Sting, and hum The Entertainer for the rest of the day after I’d read it.
I look forward to the next story in this series.